OSWEGO, NY – On Wednesday (October 28), the District Attorneys for Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga and Oswego counties held a press conference in Binghamton to announce that they had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Bishop Robert Cunningham of the Syracuse Diocese regarding the reporting of sexual misconduct of minors.
The document establishes a consistent policy and protocol for the reporting of sexual abuse by any member of the clergy and religious orders under the auspices of the Syracuse Diocese, regardless of when the incident was committed.
The memorandum states that when a Diocesan official learns or has reason to suspect that a member of the clergy or religious order has sexually abused a minor, the person disclosing the abuse will be strongly urged to report immediately and directly to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office.
The Diocese will also immediately refer the matter to the appropriate District Attorney’s Office for investigation, regardless of the age of the allegation, and regardless of whether the clergy member or religious is currently active.
The agreement also requires the Diocese to preserve any evidence of the incident and to coordinate with the District Attorney’s Office with respect to the preservation and collection of that evidence.
The memorandum explicitly states that the Diocese shall not conduct its own independent investigation of a complaint prior to reporting the matter to the District Attorney’s Office, other than a preliminary inquiry to establish that there is an allegation of conduct that rises to a sexual offense.
If there is a question of criminality, the Diocese is required to consult with the appropriate District Attorney’s Office.
Notably, the document explicitly sets forth the age of consent in New York State, stating that any minor under the age of 17 cannot give consent.
Under the protocol, once the District Attorney’s Office has been notified of the complaint or suspicion, the Diocese will take appropriate action with regard to the clergy member to ensure the safety of minors, including removing the individual from his or her assignment.
The memorandum states that any action by the Diocese should be coordinated with the District Attorney’s Office to make sure that the criminal investigation is not compromised.
The District Attorneys and the Diocese have been working on this memorandum for nearly a year.
The document builds upon a verbal agreement that the parties have had for the past 12 years.
At the press conference, Broome County District Attorney Gerald Mollen said, “We all agree that sexual abuse of a minor cannot and will not be tolerated. This agreement furthers our collective commitment to protect our children and to ensure that these acts are not repeated in the future.”
“We appreciate the efforts of Bishop Cunningham to formalize in this memorandum of understanding the policy and protocol for reporting these incidents to police and prosecutors for investigation from the first day a report is received by Diocesan officials,” he continued.
After the press conference, Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes credited all of his fellow prosecutors for their hard work on this important issue, but he singled out Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick for exceptional praise.
“DA Fitzpatrick has shown tremendous leadership on this matter, and we would not be here today without his dedication and commitment,” said Oakes.
District Attorney Fitzpatrick noted that all of his colleagues offered insights and recommendations that are reflected in the final memorandum.
Fitzpatrick said, “I want to thank DA Oakes for a professional lifetime devoted to protecting our most vulnerable victims, our children who have been sexually assaulted. With Greg’s collaboration, we now have meaningful reform to insure that every allegation of sexual abuse will be thoroughly investigated by professionals such as him.”
In discussing the significance of this agreement, District Attorney Oakes noted that the written memorandum establishes clear guidelines to ensure that all allegations of sexual abuse are addressed immediately and handled appropriately.
“The memorandum removes discretion from the Diocese. Prosecutors, not the Church, will evaluate the complaint and decide upon a proper course of action,” Oakes said. “We hope that this process allows victims and the community to have confidence in the outcome of these investigations. Gone are the days of keeping secrets.”